Gaborone, Botswana, 8 November 2023 (ECA) - Southern African countries should take collective action to accelerate the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement which is strategic to reducing poverty and inequality in a region classified as one of the most unequal in the world today.
Opening the 29th Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts of Southern Africa (ICSOE), Mmusi Kgafela, Botswana Minister of Trade and Industry, said Southern Africa was facing multiple challenges that have exacerbated poverty and inequality, making it imperative to accelerate trade and industrialization to boost the region’s economic growth.
Citing the COVID-19 after-effects, the geopolitical tension in Europe and the effects of climate change which have combined to undermine the regional development agenda, Mr. Kgafela said Southern Africa had no option but move a gear up on industrialization and boost trade in the context of the AfCFTA.
“Boosting intra-Africa trade through the AfCFTA will generate immense benefits for our regional economies,” Mr. Kgafela said, highlighting the gravity of the challenges of poverty and inequality in Southern Africa and how trade and industrialization could create jobs and raise incomes.
“Collaborative efforts of governments and the private sector, supporting innovation and technology development can lift Southern Africa out of poverty particularly through capacitating our Micro Small and Mediums Enterprises, youth and women-owned businesses, “ said Mr. Kgafela, imploring regional governments to think innovatively about supporting the growth of regional economies.
The 29th ICSOE Meeting is to consider and endorse the annual report on the work of ECA in Southern Africa, review economic and social conditions in the region, and review a report on the implementation of regional and international agendas and other special initiatives in Southern Africa.
In an address to the meeting, ECA Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist, Hanan Morsy, said poverty and inequality remain entrenched in Southern Africa and continue to pose a challenge towards the achievement of a prosperous society and “the Africa we want”.
Ms. Morsy, in remarks delivered by Director, ECA Sub-regional Office for Southern Africa, Eunice Kamwendo, said the Southern Africa region faced overlapping challenges that hinder its ability to leverage its comparative advantage and endowments to drive economic development while addressing poverty and inequality.
“The opportunities created by the AfCFTA will stimulate increased trade and investment, promote value addition, foster innovation and productivity growth, both at national and regional levels, and consequently contribute to the reduction of poverty, vulnerability, and inequality,” said Ms. Morsy, calling for the expeditious implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement by regional member States.
While Ms. Chileshe Kapwepwe, Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) said COMESA, as one of the eight Regional Economic Commissions recognized by the African Union as “building blocks” towards successful implementation of the Agreement, was committed to continental integration and specifically implementation of the AfCFTA.
Concurring that the level of inequality and poverty in Southern Africa was unsustainable and undermined the region’s socioeconomic developmental aspirations, Elias Magosi, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Executive Secretary, highlighted that addressing the two challenges was not only a moral imperative but a strategic necessity to achieve inclusive development in the region.
David Claude Pierre, Africa Union, Permanent Representative for the Southern African Region (AU-SARO) noted that if the region is to succeed in leveraging the AfCFTA for poverty and inequality reduction, there should be no business as usual. He asked, “How can we effectively deal with poverty eradication and inequality if we do not give the youth and women of Africa their rightful place in societies across Africa and continue to treat women as lesser beings than men?”.
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Tel: +251 11 551 5826